There are 227 comedy shows featuring women at Edinburgh this year – a quarter of all the shows. You can spin that number either way. You can see it as a record number of women comedians. Yay! Wimmin! Or you can be surprised that, 18 years after Jenny Eclair first won the Perrier Award, only one in four comedy performers is a wimminly one. Boo! Inequality!
For a few years, the number of women performing stand-up at the Fringe has risen steadily. The first show to sell out this year? A woman's: Sarah Millican. Most talked-about newcomer? A woman: Aisling Bea became the first in 20 years to win the coveted So You Think You're Funny? award at Edinburgh's Gilded Balloon last year. Her 2013 show C'est La Bea is on every "hottest ticket" list.
It's not as if women are not given enough prominence. This year's must-sees have been bigged up everywhere: Bridget Christie, Tig Notaro, Caroline Rhea, Lucy Porter, Rachel Parris, Sara Pascoe, Claudia O'Doherty, Gemma Whelan, Abi Roberts, Harriet Kemsley, Nat Luurtsema, Mary Bourke, Ria Lina.
But while the numbers are so slow to even out, there's still a tendency to talk about "wimmin and comedy" rather than focusing on what audiences are interested in: "Who is going to make me laugh?" The upward trend is encouraging. (Hooray for the Fringe!) But its slowness, that is depressing. (Down with women being seen as a novelty act because they're supposedly some kind of minority!)
Why, still, are there fewer women? This is the question no one can really answer. It's the flipside of "Why are there so few male primary school teachers?" We don't like to believe we live in a world of stereotypes. But we do.
Of course, the stand-up circuit, where I am toiling as a newbie, has its share of pervs and bullies. While most women comics will have a favourite horror story about unwanted approaches or nasty heckles, this stuff is no serious barrier to getting through the ranks.
There is a persistent view that part of the answer must be that "women are not as funny as men". People otherwise perfectly sensible seem happy to hold this belief, while surrounded by mothers, sisters, demented female friends, quipping aunts and cuttingly funny grandmothers who make them laugh in their everyday lives. (OK, not always intentionally.)
"But men are better at stand-up," say the strangely persistent. Maybe it seems that way. But only because of the numbers bias, and comedy being intensely personal. Over 800 men to chose from but only 227 women? Of course your best fit is more likely to be a man.
No favourite female comic? You just haven't found the right woman yet. Don't lose heart. This year's Edinburgh is the place to start.
Viv Groskop is performing the one-woman show of her book 'I Laughed, I Cried: How One Woman Took On Stand-Up and (Almost) Ruined Her Life' on 18 and 19 August, 10.40pm, Le Monde. For tickets go to edfringe.comReuse content